CRITIPEG: WNMF 3: Orchestral Voice of the Future

Developing composers flex their orchestral muscles with the WSO at Cinematheque

The Winnipeg New Music Festival Composer’s Institute (WNMFCI) invests the Winnipeg Symphony Orchestra’s (WSO) collaborative capital into the careers of a lucky handful of sonic storytellers.

The Winnipeg New Music Festival’s (WNMF) Monday night program brought seven new works from seven budding Canadian composers to a curious audience at the Centennial Concert Hall.

The evening kicked off with a work by Scott Ross Molyneux, this year’s winner of the Canadian Music Centre’s Prairie Region Emerging Composer Competition. His was the only work of the evening conducted by the WSO’s artistic director, Daniel Raiskin.

Ross-Molyneux’s work Ehrykaviss is evocative of a fantasy film score. Trodding forth with declamatory brass and sweeping strings, there is a moment of meditative stillness before a fugal finale.

The remainder of the program was conducted by the WSO’s associate conductor, Julian Pellicano.

Adam Hakooz’ Flux was the first standout work of the night. A bombastic surge full of erratic gestural exchanges between strings and brass and explosions of percussion (that managed to drown out the rest of the orchestra at times) wind down to a rich, leathery stretch for the ears before the basses reinitiate the momentum into a final burst of cosmic delight.

Like Felix Mendelssohn’s Hebrides overture, Kirsten Ewart’s Cueva de Villa Luz is inspired by a cave. She paints an iridescent and earthy journey into a dark, sulphured labyrinth. A plaintive English horn solo guides the listener into squeaky and shimmering strings through slow moving curiosity and into cadential discovery.

Hieronimus Bosch’s most famous triptych The Garden of Earthly Delights was Noora Nakhaei’s starting point for her work of the same name. A cloudy calm and heavenly harp are overtaken by frenetic motives thrown around the orchestra until they abruptly crash into a truncated inferno.

Curtis Wright explores the sounds of the cosmos in his work Thuban & Eltanin. Echoes of influence from the pomp of John Williams’ intergalactic film scores, the dance in Tchaikovsky’s ballets and Ives’ proclivity for layering ring through Wright’s string textures, wind solos and majestic punctuations from the brass.

The second highlight of the night came from Amy Brandon. Her 3 Portraits for Orchestra is a sonic roller coaster through tension and release. The calm of a low string drone spreads into a web of anxiety through strenuous groans before resolving into a lustrous sound bath. With stabs of solo cello spurring way for gut-wrenching and horrific swells, Brandon’s timbral palate could humble even seasoned composers.

Ending the program with a bang, Tyler Versluis’ Tragic Overture, “Phaeton” goes back to Greek mythology for its catalyst. This tone poem cinematically illuminates Phaeton’s hubris and demise in brass fanfare and percussive flourishes. Versluis’ well-balanced orchestration and intuitive pacing makes for a great and fiery ride.

Coordinating 67 individuals isn’t simple, but this group of up-and-coming Canadian composers had a good whack at it. The opportunity to have their works performed by a professional orchestra at the most exciting North American new music festival happening these days is a beautiful thing.

Save a few moments in the program, this year’s WNMFCI selections were largely tonal and associatively idiomatic – a little tame for what folks have come to expect from the WNMF. However, the maestros and musicians of the WSO offered sincere readings and brought integral life to these works that – for the most part – sound new.

Published in Volume 73, Number 17 of The Uniter (February 7, 2019)

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